Graduation rate up slightly: Florida’s high school graduation rate was up slightly in 2021, according to data released by the state on Tuesday. The 90.1 percent graduation rate was 0.1 percent higher than in 2020. The graduation rate, which is defined by the percentage of students who finish high school four years after they started, has improved significantly since 70.6 percent earned diplomas in 2011. Rates for both the last two classes have benefitted from the pandemic-related decision by the state to waive the requirement that seniors pass English and math tests to be eligible to graduate. Almost 16,000 students were given diplomas last spring because of the waiver. Orlando Sentinel. WTSP.
Around the state: The effects of the omicron variant are already being felt in the state, with thousands of teachers and students calling in absent this week, several school districts have tweaked their coronavirus safety protocols for school openings today and Thursday, Pasco school officials have made the unusual decision to work closely with select charter schools to help accommodate enrollment growth, a bill is filed for the legislative session that would prevent union fees being deducted from public employees’ paychecks, and the the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the number of new coronavirus cases among children was up 64 percent last week. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade, Broward: About 1,700 Miami-Dade teachers called in sick Tuesday, which was down from the 2,110 who were absent Monday but an increase of about 1,000 from the same day last year. Student attendance was at 86.8 percent Tuesday, up from 82.4 percent Monday. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was among the substitute teachers, teaching an environmental science class at Miami Jackson Senior High School. Broward reported that 1,740 teachers called in sick Tuesday, up from 1,644 Monday, and about 24,700 students were absent Tuesday, down from 41,700 on Monday. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. Carvalho also took to Twitter this week to question the state’s face mask policies for schools, writing: “Help me understand this! Students in Florida can use publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools that impose student mask mandates, when public schools, the bedrock of democracy in America, are legislatively forbidden from doing so. #COVID19.” Twitter.
Hillsborough: Nearly 930 teachers called in sick Tuesday, district officials said, but the overall number of employees missing work was lower than expected. “This week we have 2,500 employees who have called out sick so far. In the past we’ve had 5,000 during the delta variant, so it’s been worse. We’ve dealt with this before,” said district spokeswoman Erin Maloney. WFLA.
Orange: On the first day back in schools after the winter break, 700 Orange County public school teachers were absent and more than 900 new cases of coronavirus were reported. Superintendent Barbara Jenkins also said 14 percent of school bus drivers called in sick. The district reported 866 student COVID-19 cases from the last day before the winter break through Monday, far higher than the previous high of 491 reported Sept. 7. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WMFE. WESH. WFTV.
Palm Beach: District officials report that they’re seeing acute staff shortages, driven by the surge of the omicron variant, that will have an impact on both education and transportation for students. Today is the first day back for students. WPTV. Authorities are investigating the cause of a fire in a portable classroom at the old Gove Elementary School in Belle Glade. No one was injured. WPTV.
Duval: Parents were informed Tuesday that a shortage of school bus drivers will mean delays in picking up and dropping off students. “We apologize but we want to inform you that due to COVID-19 related shortage of drivers, several of our routes are running significantly behind schedule this afternoon,” read the message. “This is particularly true on the north, northwest and westsides of Jacksonville.” WJXT. WTLV.
Polk: At least a dozen children between the ages of 1 and 16 are hospitalized with the coronavirus in central Florida. “Our current inpatient census is a marked increase from November of 2021 where we averaged around one inpatient pediatric patient a day,” said Hal Escowitz, chief quality officer and chief medical informatics officer for Lakeland Regional Health. “To date, our pediatric inpatient census is similar to that during our Delta surge.” Lakeland Ledger. WKMG.
Pinellas: School district officials are partnering with Evara Health to offer free coronavirus tests for students, employees and their families. The tests are being given at Evara Health at Highpoint in Clearwater every Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Bay News 9.
Lee: More than 100 threats have been made against Lee County schools since the first day in August. The highest full-year total in recent years was 164 in 2018, the year of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. WINK.
Pasco: District officials have decided to work closely with select charter school companies to help meet the demand for more classrooms because of population growth. Superintendent Kurt Browning is collaborating with two well-established local charter schools, Dayspring Academy and Pepin Academies, to consider ways to help them pay for new campuses in rapidly growing areas of the county. The schools could have access to school impact fees, district capital funds and bonding. “The Pasco County school system has a commitment to local, homegrown charter schools,” said assistant superintendent Ray Gadd. “We have relationships with them. To the extent we can support them, we’re going to do it.” Tampa Bay Times. STEM-related magnet programs are opening next fall at Sanders, Marlowe and Centennial elementary schools. And a magnet high school, Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, is also opening in the fall with programs in cybersecurity, automotive, robotics and construction. WTVT.
Volusia, Flagler: Despite the spike in coronavirus cases, classes resumed Tuesday in Volusia County and begin today in Flagler County. More than 2,000 Volusia students and almost 500 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus this school year, and 1,164 students and 132 employees in Flagler had been infected through Dec. 17. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Manatee: A coronavirus testing site for students, school district and county government employees opened this week at John H. Marble Park in Bradenton. It’s open weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.. Bradenton Herald. School board members approved calendars for both the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years. The first day of school will be Aug. 10 both years, and the last day will be May 26 in 2023 and May 24 in 2024. Schools will be closed for a full week over Thanksgiving in both years. Bradenton Herald.
Escambia, Santa Rosa: The number of coronavirus cases is starting to affect operations in the Escambia and Santa Rosa school districts. Escambia reported 37 students and 12 employees were absent Tuesday, while Santa Rosa officials said 50 students and 40 employees weren’t at schools. “Should this go up, I’ll expect that we’ll have to do some coverage from within,” said Superintendent Karen Barber. “We won’t have adequate subs to completely cover all of our classrooms.” WKRG.
Leon: Teachers, other district employees and visitors will be required to wear face masks indoors when they can’t maintain a social distance from others when schools reopen today. Superintendent Rocky Hanna made the announcement Tuesday, and also said quarantine periods will drop from 10 days to 5 for students or employees who are asymptomatic. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.
In the Legislature: A bill that would prevent union fees being deducted from public employees’ paychecks has been proposed by state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Bills have been filed in both houses that would restrict the subjects of constitutional amendments through the citizens’ initiative process. The identical measures, SJR 1412 and HJR 1127, were filed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, respectively. Initiatives would be “limited to matters relating to procedural subjects or to the structure of the government or of this Constitution.” If approved, the final bill would go before voters in November. More than 60 percent of voters would have to approve for it to be added to the state constitution. News Service of Florida. Up to 50 college scholarships valued at $6,100 a year would be given to descendants of the Groveland Four and other students from Groveland under a bill proposed by state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. Florida Politics. Representatives of legislative leaders said there will no COVID restrictions for the 60-day session that begins Jan. 11. News Service of Florida.
Around the nation: The number of new coronavirus cases among children was up 64 percent last week and hit a record level, according to a report released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics. More than 325,000 new cases were reported in the week ending Dec. 30, up from 126,000 the week before. CNN. The U.S. Education and Transportation departments announced Tuesday that they would allow states to temporarily waive federal requirements that school bus driver applicants identify “the ‘under the hood’ engine components. … to help states and municipalities that are experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers recruit new hires.” News Service of Florida. Newsweek. The nation’s teachers find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being in the middle of the nation’s culture wars. Associated Press. Republicans think they can make significant gains in the 2022 elections by campaigning against critical race theory. Politico.
Education podcasts: Janelle Woods, the found of the Black Mothers Forum in Phoenix, talks with reimaginED executive editor Matthew Ladner about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated inequities for black children, what led her organization to explore microschooling, and how parents are responding to the microschool environment. reimaginED.
Opinions on schools: Florida is in a great position to become America’s premier “education destination.” We already have the nation’s largest and most impressive school choice programs. And we already have an entrepreneurial spirit that fosters innovation and regularly improves our scholarship programs to help more parents find the optimal education for their children. William Mattox, Florida Politics. Florida’s traditional public schools face many challenges, from pandemic learning losses to teacher shortages to growing concerns over potential violence and mental health. The Legislature could consider those priorities and offer help. Instead, Republicans pelt school districts with legislative snowballs. Sun Sentinel. With Miami-Dade school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s departure, we will need a top administrator who leads with logic and makes bold decisions to protect kids’ safety and their educational future. Dade teachers union president Karla Hernandez-Mats, Miami Herald.